Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the entire team of Padmavati have had quite an eventful year so far. Having faced assault, vandalism, vehement opposition, and verbal abuse, the film’s team have only half a month to go for the release on December 1. And yet, the tension is palpable if it would be a peaceful release or not.
Bhansali’s film starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh is a cinematic adaptation of the epic poem Padmavat, which most historians have called a work of fiction. Perhaps, the protests are for political gain with crucial elections due in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Otherwise, how do you explain massive protests against a film that they haven’t yet seen or judge the veracity of the script that is largely based on a work of fiction and hearsay.
Here’s a quick timeline to make sense of the nonsense that has ensued over a film.
In July last year, reports started surfacing with respect to Bhansali’s next production. Given that his 2015 film Bajirao Mastani was successful, with everybody pleased with Ranveer and Deepika’s pairing, reports suggested that the two will be teaming up for Bhansali’s next, another period film. Whether it’s Devdas or Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali is known to take creative liberties but then getting offended over commercial films like these is like believing Sean Spicer’s take on history.
Soon after the shooting began in September 2016, Hardik Patel, who made the national headlines in 2015 by being at the forefront of the Patidar Reservation Agitation, asked Bhansali to stop shooting his historical film to assuage the alleged concerns of the Rajput Sena.
In an interview with the Mumbai Mirror, Patel said, “Rajasthan-based Rajput Sena’s members met me and informed that SLB has not studied the history, and could damage the image of Rani Padmavati. So, we’ve informed him to stop the production of the film and hold discussions with Rajput leaders before he begins shooting.”
Interestingly, Bhansali had staged an opera version of this story in Paris a few years earlier. Several reports also suggested that the director had done extensive research on Rani Padmini’s history and was confident of making an accurate depiction of the events on-screen.
While Patel is currently grappling with other issues, last year he had threatened to block the film’s release if Bhansali did not accede to their demands.
“Bhansali should give assurance of not damaging Rani Padmavati’s image, or else Patidar Navnirman Sena will hold protests against the movie across the country, and will not give permission for the film to release in Rajasthan. No director has the right to damage history for entertainment,” Patel had said.
Production continued and news about the film went unreported for a little while. Towards the end of January this year, Bhansali was assaulted by protesters who marched on the film’s sets in Jaipur and manhandled the director and tore his clothes. The reason cited by the group was that they are “unhappy with the distortion of facts in Padmavati”.
Around that time, it was reported that a number of groups were irked by the fact that the film had a dream sequence with Queen Padmini and Alauddin Khilji in a romantic scene. The protests prompted the security team deployed at the sets to open fire, with Bhansali telling India Today that sometimes, he has to go through this ”humiliation to make a film in this country”.
The video, an India Today exclusive, can be watched here:
Soon enough, support pours in for the director. Citing creative freedom, several artistes such as Huma Qureshi, Shabhana Azmi, and Priyanka Chopra lent their support to Bhansali, criticising the group for upholding ‘such parochial views’.
Around this time, a bounty is also made by a BJP leader on Bhansali. The BJP leader from Hosangabad Municipal Corporation in Madhya Pradesh has offered a reward of Rs 10,000 to anybody who slaps Bhansali, for allegedly “distorting facts” of Rani Padmini. Akhilesh Khandelwal, who has over 10,000 followers on Facebook, took to social media and posted a long status in Hindi where he claims to support his arguments with facts.
Days after Bhansali was assaulted, Shah Rukh Khan weighed in on the debate, drawing from his own experience during the release of Billu in 2009, a film that was originally titled Billu Barber but was forced to change after protests from salon and beauty parlour associations of Bandra.
“I will be very honest. No filmmaker in the world tries to make a film to hurt anybody’s sentiments. In Billu’s case, I never thought there was anything wrong in the title. When Billu released, 45 heads of the barber community came to me and they really believed that the use of the word ‘barber’ with the film was wrong. I didn’t think there was any problem though. I did not change because I got pressurised but I didn’t want to hurt their sentiments as they genuinely didn’t like it. I told my office people we are not doing it. Let’s change the name and keep only Billu,” said Khan.
Advent of #NoSceneBetweenRaniPadmavatiAndAlauddinKhilji
End of January, days after the assault, the Rajasthan Rajput group Karni Sena demanded that Bhansali rename the historical drama Padmavati. Further, they also wanted the film to be screened before a committee formed by them prior to its theatrical release.
The film’s official team stated that there is no romantic dream sequence involving Padmini and Alauddin Khilji. Shobha Sant, CEO of Bhansali Films had written a letter to Giriraj Singh Lotwara, president of the Rajput Sabha, stating that the team had no intention of hurting the sentiments of the community. The letter said, “We have been careful in our research in the making of the film. This is to clarify that there is no romantic dream sequence or any objectionable or romantic scene between Rani Padmavati and Allauddin Khilji.”
The Padmavati team also implored social media handles to tweet about the absence of any such scene with the hashtag #NoSceneBetweenRaniPadminiAndAlauddinKhilji.
Mid-February this year, founder of Rajput Karni Sena, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, told Hindustan Times that the group will give a representation to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, demanding that they start a “pre-screening board” to properly examine films that feature historical themes.
The Karni Sena leader spoke of how the committee could include retired judges, journalists, and historians hailing from the states concerned.
Kalvi had also cited Adolf Hitler as an example and the consequences of distorting facts in fiction. “Does he have the capacity to film a movie against Adolf Hitler in Germany? Things that did not exist in history should not be depicted in films. We said the same thing during the shooting of Jodha Akhbar,” he told ANI News.
In March, the sets of Padmavati in Kolhapur were vandalised and set on fire.
The designers of the film, Rimple and Harpreet Narula opened up about how “emotionally broken” they are after the vandalism took place. The shooting was taking place at Mhasai Pathar, when a group of 15-20 people barged into the sets around 4 am and vandalised the costumes and animal feed kept there.
Again, a month later, the Karni Sena said that the country will not ‘tolerate’ controversial shots in the film. Kalvi said that communities like theirs and many others in Maharashtra, Gujarat are struggling for reservation rights.
Meanwhile, news of the film’s postponement was doing the rounds. The film was scheduled to release on November 17 but reports suggested that it might get shifted to 2018.
Viacom 18, the co-producers of the film, issued a statement denying any such changes.
Almost a year after the film’s shooting began, the team started releasing the first look of the actors. Shared by Deepika Padukone on September 21, who plays the queen, the first look has her clad in Rajasthani clothes and baubles, and sporting a unibrow.
— Deepika Padukone (@deepikapadukone) September 21, 2017
— Deepika Padukone (@deepikapadukone) September 21, 2017
This didn’t last though.
The Shri Rajput Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajput community, two days later, burnt posters of the film. The group of protesters gathered in front of Rajmandir Cinema Hall and shouted slogans against Bhansali and burnt posters of the film.
“While shooting in Jaipur, Bhansali had promised to show the film to us and historians before releasing it. But since then no one has contacted us, nor has the film been shown to us,” Narain Singh Divrala, district president Jaipur of the Shri Rajpur Karni Sena, told IANS.
“We want him to show the film to the core committee of Shri Rajput Karni Sena and various organisations, including historians, before releasing it,” Divrala said.
Soon enough, the first look of the other two actors also came out.
— Shahid Kapoor (@shahidkapoor) September 25, 2017
On October 9, the film’s trailer came out which looked like as though it were on the side of the majority community, therefore, the right-wingers shouldn’t have a problem with the film.
For a film that has been titled Padmavati, after the iconic character who came to be known as the sacrificial wife who did all in the name of honour, there’s little shown of her except looking vulnerable or righteous.
While the men were shown flexing their virility (or in Ranveer’s case, his barbaric way of doing things even when he’s eating meat), the lone woman is shown as the synonym of beauty, grace, and the much-needed feminine touch in this testosterone-high trailer. Needless to say, while the attention is pretty much drawn on Ranveer’s Alauddin and his villainy (bordering on racist considering it displays a version of history that has been disputed several times), Rani Padmini is merely looked at as Maharawal Ratan Singh’s woman staying by his side, looking flawless in her heavy jewellery and clothes.
A few weeks later, more violence emerged with respect to the film. On October 18, five people, including four members of the right wing outfits Karni Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), were reportedly arrested for allegedly vandalising a rangoli inspired by the film.
— KARAN K. (@KARANK19522136) October 16, 2017
The song ‘Ghoomar’ released on October 24, showcasing Rani Padmini (played by Deepika Padukone), walking towards a massive courtyard with other women dancing with lamps and balancing pots on their head. Rani Padmini’s husband, Maharawal Ratan Singh (played by Shahid Kapoor) is on a verandah, and watches his wife dance to this traditional folk number.
And trouble continues.
Hyderabad BJP MLA Raja Singh threatened to burn theatres if Bhansali’s Padmavati shows Hindus in a negative light. Speaking at a Rajput community gathering early this month, Singh vowed to teach a lesson to those who dare misrepresent the Hindus and the culture. “Across the country there are protests against the movie. But no one here is raising any objection to the film. Did our blood become cold?”
Apart from the BJP, a Brahmin organisation, Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha, decided to oppose the release of Bhansali’s magnum opus. In a statement, Suresh Mishra, state president of Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha said that they will not tolerate “distortion” of historical facts at any cost.
While Bhansali has gone to clarify that the honour of Rajputs have not been tarnished in the film, none of the protesters seem to pay heed. As of this week, Deepika Padukone has gone on to say that nothing can stop this film now, while over 50 activists of Rajput Karni Sena vandalised a cinema hall and a mall in Kota for screening the film’s trailer.
“It’s appalling, it’s absolutely appalling. What have we gotten ourselves into? And where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed. The only people we are answerable to is the censor board, and I know and I believe that nothing can stop the release of this film. This is not about Padmavati… We’re fighting a much bigger battle,” she told IANS.
Thus far, the BJP leader Subramanian Swamy slammed the actress, sarcastically responding to her statement on the country’s regression. Swamy told CNN-News18 that the actor had no right to give a lecture on regression, adding, “I am told the actress is not even an Indian citizen, she’s Dutch.”
Cine actress Deepika Padukone giving us lecture on regression!! Nation can progress only when it is regression from her perspective.
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) November 14, 2017
The good news is that film fraternity with stars like Salman Khan have come out in support of Bhansali. Opposition leaders like Shashi Tharoor said that the Padmavati controversy is an opportunity to focus on the conditions of Rajasthani women today and not just of queens six centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Shri Rajput Karni Sena has for a Bharat bandh (shutdown) on December 1, the date on which the film is scheduled to release.